Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Resurrection--Are You Fool?

Today happens to be April Fool's Day and Easter Day: April 1, 2018.
In my last post I discussed the idea of valid doubt or skepticism. Here I will discuss foolish doubt and foolish belief.
The Hebrew songwriter, King David of Israel, wrote of foolish skeptics in Psalm 14
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?1

And in the first chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians from Paul of Tarsus he wrote to them,
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.2
We don't have to look too closely to see the contrasts between these passages. However, did you notice the similarities? Hmmm.... Let's discuss. David is speaking of fools who purposely remove the idea of God from their palates. Notice that they are saying in their hearts that their is no God. This should invoke in us the idea of purposeful suppression--borne of desire of the heart. They are not merely making an intellectual and scientific discovery and reporting back the data. In the rest of the Psalm we see what their reasoning is for making this heartfelt confession: evil. To quote St. Paul again, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."Most honest men and women will admit (maybe not publicly), when asked whether they would want God to exist, will say no. Why not? Isn't God a crutch for the weak and a genie for the feeble-minded? The answer is obvious to the earnest truth seeker. These fools would deny the genie or the crutch because of their wickedness.

To better understand we can look at the first law of thermodynamics. This law tells us that heat is energy and cannot be destroyed but merely transferred. In much the same way, since God can not be destroyed, he must be displaced. What can an ant living in an ant farm do but develop a sort of psychological myopia when he has a desire to escape the all seeing eye of the 9-year old child who created that farm? So, the wicked persons described by King David are clearly believers in a contrived skepticism, but what about the persons described by Paul in his letter to ancient Corinth?

Paul, in verse 18, talks about a message which is foolishness to or with those who are perishing. This also can and should be thought of in the same humanly derived sense of discernment as the fool in Psalm 14. To the people who reject the message about Jesus' death and resurrection (the thing which signifies and solidifies the metaphysical implications of that death for humanity) it is absurd and foolish. That is, as far as they are concerned it is to be assumed as culturally foolish. This is the same in any culture--whether the culture's truth stems from philosophers, priests, scientists or shaman--it still stems from the culture. In the next verse (19) we see a quote from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. Here God might seem to be saying that he will in fact destroy intelligence and wisdom! God forbid it! In fact, what it says is that he will destroy the wisdom of the "wise  men". It should be clear that God is in search of destroying that wisdom which is creation-made and contrary to the greater, more panoramic knowledge and wisdom of the creator. So, at the end of the day the believer in the message of Christ's death and resurrection is opposed to the creaturely understanding of what is true and possible in their known world. Christians, according to Paul, are fools in relation to the world, but wise in relation to the culturally transcendent knowledge of God.

If today is April Fool's day, then maybe it is the day on which we need to discover which kind of fool we are. One of the best ways might be to talk about the systematic, bottom up, minimal facts, or lowest common denominator approach of resurrection historian Gary Habermas.

In Gary's career he has developed a method of researching the facts of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that only focus on those facts that are accepted by all those who are intellectually honest--those who are not philosophically committed to the denial of Jesus at all costs. He has a clever way of finding out how many of modern scholars conclude that the necessary facts of the resurrection are undeniably true history. It's not that clever sounding after you hear it, but here it is: find the percentage of liberal, skeptical scholars who believe the bare minimum of the facts required to believe the resurrection of Jesus without a reasonable doubt and add that to the 100% of conservative scholars who affirm the same. (For reasonable doubt, though, refer back to Psalm 14.)

Habermas ultimately comes away with 4 necessary historical facts of the resurrection that have well over 90% of all scholars (liberal and conservative) affirming their historicity. Those facts are (1) Jesus of Nazareth lived and taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, (2a) Jesus of Nazareth was hung on a cross, (2b) Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross for claiming his Kingship, (3) his students had inexplicable, genuine encounters with what they believed to be the risen Jesus of Nazareth and (4) an enemy skeptic of Jesus and his students, Paul of Tarsus, claimed to have had an encounter with the risen Jesus which he believed was 100% undeniable. Remember, these are not things that Christian apologist Gary Habermas thinks are historically true, but facts that 90+% of all New Testament historians believe are historically true!

Being honest in our approach to discussing the resurrection requires us to first to decide whether we are skeptics at all costs (fools of the heart) or willing to be led by the evidence even when our heart desires the opposite and believe in that which seems contrary to our current cultural epistemic model (fools to the wise). At the end of the day we must admit that anyone who denies the resurrection in light of the evidence is somebody who who has a deep desire--an ulterior motive--to deny the truth.

1Psalm 14:1-4; Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Bible Hub
2 1 Corinthisans 1:18-25; ibid.
3 Romans 1:18-19; ibid.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Are You Doubting Enough?

Everyone doubts. Everyone trusts. Nobody trusts perfectly or doubts perfectly in everything and at all times and in all ways. So, you could always doubt more or get better at it. The question would be, then, should you?

To answer that we should probably discuss why you should do anything at all. Some say that everything that we should do is really only pragmatic--that it serves a practical purpose. Some say that what we should do are the higher things--striving for virtues. Others say that there is still another more external and unchanging standard--this is what you ought to do. So, if those are our options (if there is another then let me know) then which one would motivate us to doubt more and even better?

Pragmatism would only promote doubting and skepticism when it called for it. We would need to look at it on a case-by-case basis. So, three would not be a need to increase. Skepticism can only be seen as a virtue when it is freeing you from some untoward behavior or social ills. However, to be totally skeptical in all things can never be a virtuous goal mainly because it would keep you from all other virtuous goals which require trust. Even pragmatism requires a very great deal of trust. An objective ought would actually require that we only doubt when it is necessary in order to understand better what it is that we must do in light of this standard. We should doubt only to find out what it is that we should not doubt--the ultimate objective ought.

As we can see from a short assessment, there is never a reason to doubt perfectly all the time, in every way and in everything. Doubt is merely a tool to be used and never something to aspire to. It is not the ultimate goal of the pragmatist, the nobleman nor the believer in objective standards. So, being skeptical should not be anyone's goal. In fact, as French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, 
"What then is man to do in this state of affairs? Is he to doubt everything, to doubt whether he is awake, whether he is being pinched or burned? Is he to doubt whether he is doubting, to doubt whether he exists? 
No one can go that far, and I maintain that a perfectly genuine sceptic has never existed."

Pensees ( Blaise Pascal, Penguin Classics; Rev Ed edition, Translated by A. Krailsheimer)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What Is The Perfect Law of Liberty? (James 1:25)

James 1:18-27
New English Translation (NET)
"18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
James uses three different words to essentially refer to the same thing in this passage. We will look at each usage to see what they mean separately as well as together to discover what it is that James means by "the perfect law of liberty". The three usages are (1) the message of truth, (2) the perfect law of liberty, and (3) pure and undefiled religion.

Let's first look at the "message of truth". In verse 18 James says that the message (some translations: the word) is how we were given birth. For James, the half-brother of Jesus, birth here would be referring to re-birth--being born again. Then, in v. 21 he calls it that message "implanted within you" and "which is able to save your souls." The message that births you, then, is also the one that saves your soul. Not only that, but it is also implanted in you. This message both saves and regenerates and after that it indwells you. This must mean nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, it also means more than that. We see in Jeremiah that the law of the new covenant will be written on the hearts of those men and women belonging to that covenant. 

Now, we will look at the law of liberty. Along with the "message of truth" James declares that we must live out the "perfect law of liberty" and not just take it in by the ear. You can quickly see that James merely continues his argument of the importance of being doers of the message by saying that we must also be doers of this law without making a new argument at all. Either the law of liberty exists in the message of truth or the message exists in the law. It should be clear that the message is not perfectly identical to the law but that the portion of each which involves application or (more likely) imperatives is the same. So then, he is referring to taking the same action in either case. That is, those things that we should do which are in the message are the same as the things that we should do which are in the law. So, the law of liberty and the message of truth both contain the same instructions for right conduct.

Lastly, we have pure religion. Just as in the law example of the mirror, here we have a person perceiving of themselves and then not living out a life in concord with that image. And we also have the idea of deceiving oneself both here and in the first section of the 'implanted word'. We can even see what I think is the same idea in v 24 where the man looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. That man is not forgetful, but rather self-deceived! (There is also likely a tie to the double-minded man earlier in the chapter; cf. Moo.) So, once again James gives us a standard that is being heard or seen and then the absence or lack of living that standard out. That standard is, of course, God's standard of righteousness (see v. 20). Interestingly, here James gives us actual samples of that righteous conduct: "to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world." So, James warns that religious claims do not make you a righteous dude if you are simply going to the temple--pagan or Jewish--but rather it is the implanted word with the law of liberty working out good for those around you. So, once again the aspect of all three that should be obeyed are the same commands and should be plainly taken as referring to the same thing. 

Putting it plainly, then the law of our true religion is found in the message of Jesus. I think it is safe to say that James here is saying that the person who lays claim to the fulfillment of all religion (which we know today as Christianity) and received the gospel, law and teaching of Jesus Christ is only fooling themselves if they are not living out the Law of Christ. As Paul said in Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Beginning and End: Light from Genesis, John, 1 John and Revelation for Kids

The Beginning and End: Light from Genesis, John, 1 John and Revelation for Kids.
Ages 5-10
This children's Bible is completely unique. There is no Bible, currently on the market, for children of this age which is an actual English translation. 
This is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew Old Testament's first chapter of Genesis and of selections of John's writings (John, 1 John, and Revelation) from the Greek New Testament which speak of light. 
Illustrations award winning artist Roger Archibald. 
Ages 5-10 
The first children's Bible of its kind. An actual English translation that they can comprehend. Watch how John picks up on the "light'' from Genesis chapter 1 and uses it in his Gospel and in his first letter and see God's plan unfold from creation to the cross to the end and fulfillment along with great illustrations.

Genesis Chapter 1

In the beginning of everything God made the whole world, and the sky and the outer space.

Then, God said, "Light, exist!" Then light existed. God said that the light was good and, so, God moved the light away from the dark and made daytime and nighttime.

Then, God said, "There should be a canvas right in between the waters, as a background. This must keep the waters away from each other. Then, that is exactly what happened: God made the background--the canvas--and God moved the water down under the canvas and up on top of the canvas. Then, God named the canvas "the sky".

Then, God said, "All you waters under the sky, come together into one big spot so that the ground is not covered up and it can be seen."  Then, that is exactly what happened: the water under the sky--on the ground--was moved into its big spot and then the ground could be seen. Then, God named the ground "the earth" and all the waters that were brought together God named "lakes" and "oceans".

Then, God said, "Earth, sprout green leafy plants on the ground; ones that grow from seeds that were from the same kind of plants. Grow trees that have fruit with seeds in the fruit so the seeds can grow more trees just like the ones that they came from." Then, that is exactly what happened.

3 John
1 The Elder
    To Gaius the loved.
2 Beloved, I pray that you have a good life and be healthy in every way, just like you have a good spirit life.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review of a Heavily Misapplied Hermeneutic

So many poor doctrines come from the oversimplification of and broad and indiscriminate application of an otherwise noble and sound hermeneutic, when the writers of the New Testament (the Spirit of God, really) did not adhere to the rule themselves. This is the hermeneutical rule that says that we should interpret a passage the way the original audience would have. This is particularly jeopardous when we are interpreting the OT passages and think, "Well, how would the Jews have understood it?" I am not here talking about cultural contexts where the meaning of a word or phrase was specific to that era. I am speaking of things that were specific to the Jews who were in a covenant with God and would interpret his word according to their experiences with Jehovah. What is wrong with their understanding? Why should we doubt it?
Several reasons. For one, we see new Testament usage of OT passages that are clearly alien to any OT Jewish understanding of the passage from when it was first received.  What Jew would have thought that the "seed" of Abraham was referring, not to himself and his brethren, but to the Messiah?
Secondly, the Jews, like us all were limited by the flesh; sin's effect on our ability to think. They were also spoken of in terms that describe an obstinate mind--they are stiff -necked with heard hearts.
Thirdly, Jesus purposely hid the true meaning of his words from those who were not his true disciples. (See Matt 13) Romans 11:7-10 says of the OT Jews, "What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that could not see
    and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”
 And David says:

“May their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
    and their backs be bent forever."
Which sets up the question, how many OT Jews were believers? The Bible does not give any indication that there were many or, necessarily more than a handful. Is this the description of people that we want interpreting God's declarations?
Given that Jesus hid the meaning of his own words from them and "God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that could not see
    and ears that could not hear,
to this very day", why should we not think that the meaning of OT passages has been hidden from them, as well? I think it is safe to assume that they were hidden but many were revealed in later canonical writings (the NT) to those who believe in Jesus.